4 Ways Young Adults Can Reduce Their Risk of Colorectal Cancer
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In the late 1990s Colorectal cancer (CRC) was the fourth leading cause of cancer death in people under age 50, but cases are on the rise. Now, it’s the leading cause of cancer death in men, and second in women. 

Between 1995 and 2019, CRC cases among young adults nearly doubled from 11% to 20%. The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that 10% of new colorectal cancer diagnoses are in people younger than 50.

High profile colon cancer-related deaths of young celebrities have made the news in recent years, including the untimely passing of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman (43).

As researchers look for possible causes of this alarming trend, doctors are recommending basic steps young people should put in place today to help prevent colon cancer or catch it early, when it is easiest to treat. You’re never too young to pay attention to your gut health and to start these healthy, potentially lifesaving habits.


Take our free colon cancer risk assessment.

1. Eat a gut-healthy diet.

Our digestive tracts are full of tiny bacteria—our gut microbiome—that help process the foods we eat and support a healthy immune system. A diet high in processed foods with a lot of sodium, sugar, or trans-fat can cause an imbalance inside the microbiome that may contribute to CRC.

Red meats and processed meats, such as bologna and hot dogs, are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and rectal cancer. So, it’s best to limit those foods. 

Eating nutritious foods, such as fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, such as legumes or fish, may help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, including cancer. Talk with your healthcare provider about a diet that’s right for you.

Related reading: Food for Thought What We Eat Affects Colorectal Cancer Risk

2. Adopt healthier lifestyle habits.

People who use tobacco or drink alcohol have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Now is the best time to quit smoking and curb alcoholic beverages. Your doctor can help you develop a plan.

Adding physical activity to your daily routine can lower your risk of colon cancer while helping you maintain a healthy weight—a win for overall well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week. If that sounds like a lot, think of it in terms of days (30 minutes a day, five days a week) and start with an activity you enjoy, like a game of basketball or a walk.

3. Listen to your body—and respond.

Talk with your doctor if you notice signs of colorectal cancer, such as:

  • Changes in stool color—blood can show up as a black or a dark color
  • Ongoing constipation or diarrhea 
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Stomach pain 
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness

Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome, can cause some of these same symptoms. It is better to be safe than sorry—talk with your doctor about new or worsening GI concerns to pinpoint the cause and get appropriate treatment.

Related reading:
What Healthy Bowel Movements Look Like, and When to Call the Doctor.

4. Get screened at 45, or younger if you’re at risk.

Some colon cancer risk factors are out of your control, including the natural aging process, family history, environment, and genetics. 

To prevent colon cancer, most people should start getting colonoscopies at age 45. If someone in your close family has the genetic mutation Lynch syndrome (which is also tied to breast cancer), had colorectal cancer, or has had colon polyps, talk with your doctor about whether you should start screenings sooner. 

While getting a colonoscopy takes a bit of prep work on your part, the lifesaving benefits far outweigh the temporary inconvenience. The procedure is simple and over in about 20 minutes. Your specialist will be able to see and remove polyps that could turn into cancer, preventing CRC. If the result is good, people at average risk don’t have to worry about another routine colonoscopy for 10 years.

Some patients choose stool DNA-based options, such as Cologuard® and fecal immunochemical testing, that are less invasive. Stool-based tests sometimes cannot detect pre-cancerous polyps that could have been seen and removed during a colonoscopy. And if your result is abnormal, you’ll likely need a colonoscopy anyway.

Visit MedStarHealth.org/ColonHRA to take our free risk assessment to see if you qualify for a colon cancer screening.

Related reading: How Colonoscopies Prevent Colon Cancer.

Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages, and it doesn’t care how old you are. When CRC is detected early, it is highly treatable with the latest medical and surgical techniques, such as robotic-assisted surgery.

Stay in tune with your body. Be proactive about your GI health by talking with your doctor, and don’t hesitate to schedule your colorectal cancer screening when it’s time. Getting screened can help you stay healthy into your golden years.

Are you or a loved one due for a colonoscopy?

Our gastroenterologists are here to help. Click below to learn more about colorectal cancer and request and appointment.

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